A Case For Love In The Office

This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on Forbes.com.

You hear it over and over again: Love what you do. Do you what you love. And while we all want work that interests and engages us, that’s not the only thing that matters when it comes to finding meaning at work. You have to feel love, too.

In a longitudinal study on the impact of emotional culture in a long-term care setting, Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill examined the effect of companionate (non-romantic) love on well-being and performance. They reported in the Harvard Business Review that, “Employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork.” There turned out to be a positive correlation between companionate love and employee satisfaction and teamwork, and a negative relationship with both absenteeism and emotional exhaustion, the authors say.

That means we need more than just systems and bonuses and one-day wellness events to make work better: We need to actually demonstrate care and what’s called “companionate” love, every day (romantic love, of course, being tricky at work). The authors suggest that colleagues and managers who show more care, affection, and consideration for employees’ well-being will in fact have happier, more committed teams. I can’t think of anything better.

Of course, this is something I’ve long believed. Connection is one of the core tenets of our resilience-building system meQuilibrium—we know that resilient people hold their social and emotional connections to others in high esteem, and make it part of how they cope with stress. And that for greater resilience, you must seek them out and nurture them.

Critics might think, “Aw, come on. It’s a place ofbusiness. Not a drum circle. You want love, find it elsewhere.” I, of course disagree, as does stress expert and physician Cynthia Ackrill, M.D., who sits on the board at the American Institute of Stress, who told us why:

“If the human brain is hardwired to find safety, satisfaction, and connection first, then creating a space of companionate love increases safety and connection. A brain that feels safe is spending less energy on finding safety, protection, and competition, and has more resources free for collaboration, creation, productivity.”

She explains that we really have two modes (making us not that much more complicated than an amoeba): toward (love, trust) and away (fear, distrust). And fear is metabolically expensive. “When we feel safe and go toward we have access to far more energy and brainpower,” she says.

So for Valentine’s Day this year, whether or not you will be sharing a romantic evening with a significant other, celebrate the holiday by sharing a little love at work:

  • Go out of your way for someone—without him even having to ask.
  • Bring in lunch; buy a round next time you’re out.
  • Ask a colleague how she’s doing—and really listen.

And after Valentine’s Day, remember:

  • Connection trumps money. The connective tissue that supports us in all of our professional efforts isn’t strengthened by salaries, but by genuine human affection. When we make kind, generous actions a way of life at work, stress doesn’t vanish, but it becomes a lot more manageable.
  • Don’t just leverage human capital; nurture it. No one thrives in a fear-based, anxiety-ridden culture. It doesn’t make you more cutting edge or competitive, nor is it healthy or sustainable. The most effective and profitable companies recognize this. You don’t trade emotional wellness for a better bottom line. As a leader, it’s in your best interests to nurture a supportive and caring environment, and critical to model and reward this behavior in your organization.